Does a bullet need to be so tough that it completely penetrates a deer or elk to perform at its maximum capabilities? Should it be designed to stop in the deer’s chest and “dump all its energy” within the animal in order to work properly? The simple truth is that the deer or elk doesn’t know one brand of bullet from another when it punches into its ribcage. Given a reasonable caliber for a given animal, the most important factor in bullet performance is shot placement.
America’s great bears, the grizzly and the brown, may be the exception, but for game from elk and black bears on down to deer and hogs, you can just about choose any bullet design you like and shoot it with confidence assuming you’re using a suitable caliber. We have the many bullet and ammunition manufacturers to thank for this, because through the years they have listed to customer requests and have tried to come up with bullet designs that will satisfy a variety of tastes. With all the bullet designs now available, however, and given the cost of ammo these days, buying a box or two of deer loads on your way to hunting camp can be intimidating. Nobody wants to drop $60 on the “wrong” ammo.
Deciding what kind of performance you want from a big game bullet and learning which bullets fit in that category should alleviate any frustration and make choosing an appropriate bullet easier. Here’s a look at what bullets are available today and how you can expect them to perform.
The Gold Standard
This batch includes standard lead core bullets with a copper jacket that typically feature an exposed lead tip or hollow point. The Remington Core-Lokt, Hornady InterLock, Sierra GameKing and Speer Deep-Shok and Winchester Power-Point are fine examples. Produced by the millions, these bullets are generally the least expensive and most readily available. They represent the deer hunter’s bread-and-butter bullets and are often extremely accurate in handloads and factory loads.
This type of bullet may or may not hold together once it enters an animal, and it may or may not penetrate as a whole or in parts. However, these have been used successfully on a variety of big game animals around the world for decades. They continue to be used throughout the world today,
Take the same description and general performance characteristics as the bullets mentioned above and swap out the lead tip or hollowpoint for a sharp plastic cone, and you have the very popular Nosler Ballistic Tip, Hornady Super Shock Tipped and FlexTip (for leveraction rifles) or Remington AccuTip. The pointed plastic tip usually improves a bullet’s ballistic coefficient which translates to better down-range performance, and it initiates bullet upset upon impact. Tipped bullets are not designed for complete penetration. What they do bring to the table over standard lead-core bullets is accuracy in almost all rifles.
Tipped And Bonded
My favorite bullets fit in this category, including the Swift Scirocco, Nosler AccuBond, the Trophy Bonded Tip, Winchester XP3 and the Hornady InterBond. A high ballistic coefficient and a lead core chemically or molecularly bonded to a copper jacket make for a bullet with predictable upset and deep penetration potential. These bullets retain a great deal of their weight and generally are held in the animal only by its offside hide, if at all. These bullets are generally accurate but don’t have the same accuracy reputation as standard tipped bullets or even ordinary softpoints.
The Nosler Partition was designed by produce hauler John Nosler in 1946 out of frustration caused by what he believed to be poor bullet performance from the bullets available at the time. Is perhaps the first bullet truly produced to out-penetrate all others. While there are other designs on the market today that penetrate further, the Partition is like gold when it comes to great accuracy and deep wound channels. Its lead core is split in two by a thick layer of copper allowing the top half of the bullet to expand while the shank, pushed on by the weight of the protected lead, continues a path through flesh and bone. The Swift A-Frame is another outstanding bullet in this category. High weight retention and good to excellent accuracy can be expected. Pass-throughs are common.
There are several bullets on the market that look like garden variety bullets but hold together like nobody’s business. The Trophy Bonded Bear Claw and the Remington Core-Lokt Bonded are prime examples. Newer products include the Winchester Power Max and Federal Fusion. Manufacturers of these bullets use proprietary manufacturing methods to actually bond the lead cores with the copper jackets, making these among the toughest deep-penetrating bullets around. Accuracy runs from good to average and complete pass-throughs are common. Hunters like to use these bullets heavy-boned game like black bear, elk and moose due to their penetrating abilities.
A Solid Solution
For many years the Barnes X-Bullet, made of solid copper, was the only bullet in this category, and it has proven its ability for extreme penetration day in and day out. Today, due in large part to societal attitudes toward lead and its effects on the environment, real or perceived, Hornady, Remington and Nosler each have introduced bullets, the GMX, Premier Copper-Solid and E-Tip, respectively. These three examples are made of gilding metal, and all are tipped with a plastic cone. Barnes X-Bullets are available with or without plastic tips. If you want complete penetration 99 out of 100 shots, this is your bullet design. Accuracy is very hit-and-miss with this design. Keep trying them until you find the best combination that shoots through your rifle.
Given the fact that there are now hundreds of factory loads for dozens of calibers available throughout each category listed here, you are sure to find a combination of bullet performance and caliber that suits your needs. Just remember that shot placement supersedes any nuance in bullet design.